Before beginning their work with The Possibility Project, Jared (05) and Sophie (10) Callahan graduated from PLNU, where Jared majored in media communication and minored in youth ministry, and Sophie majored in both theology and sociology. They both served in ministry at San Diego First Church of the Nazarene and earned their graduate degrees — Jared receiving a master’s in spiritual formation and a Master of Divinity from Northwest Nazarene University, and Sophie receiving a Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Read on to learn more about their current experiences with the innovative efforts of the Bay Area-based Possibility Project and the impact it’s had on them and their community.
Q: What is The Possibility Project?
Sophie: The Possibility Project is a sort of experimental church model that includes a resident intern program, where young adults commit to two years living in community. We offer what we call Supper Church, which is a weekly gathering. There is also a weekly discipleship group focused on reading, discussion, and activities. Finally, all of our residents go out and serve in the church and the community according to their specific gifts and callings.
Q: What is the method behind this unique approach?
Jared: Many churches traditionally have a set framework and look at how they can serve their neighbors within the context of that framework. At The Possibility Project, we look at the needs of our neighbors first and use those to inform our framework and how we serve. For our particular neighborhood in Silicon Valley, there is a great financial need among young adults. The cost of living is high, and you can’t really survive without being in the technology field or making six figures. So our founder and co-pastor, Jeffrey Purganan (03), decided to sell the building housing Sunnyvale Church of the Nazarene, where he was serving as lead pastor, merge his congregation with another local church and reinvest those funds to create an endowment to allow interns to live in a reduced income setting. And that’s how The Possibility Project began in the Bay Area, with its first cohort starting in 2013.
Sophie: The thought behind this was: instead of keeping resources tied up in a building, let’s put resources into people. If we provide housing, that eliminates a barrier for young people to be involved in the community and contribute in unique, creative ways.
Q: What are your specific roles within The Possibility Project?
Sophie: I came on full-time last June to serve as a pastor in community. I oversee our spiritual formation curriculum and coordinate a lot of compassion and justice work in the community to create opportunities for residents to get involved.
Jared: I’m a part-time pastor and focus mainly on serving as a mentor to residents and organizing conversations with those who are interested in becoming residents. I also have a production company that produces short films and books, and I get to workshop those things within The Possibility Project community.
Q: Who are your typical resident interns?
Jared: I’ve seen The Possibility Project primarily attract two kinds of people: those just out of college who don’t know what they want to do with their lives or what’s next, and those in their mid-to-late twenties who have already worked but want to make a shift. Regardless of their story, this community gives each resident the opportunity to explore who God has made them to be. Then we get to come alongside them and figure out how can we help them live out of that identity.
Q: What do you want the residents to leave with after their two years with The Possibility Project?
Sophie: Our goal after two years is for each resident to be on the path toward a sustained spiritual life and lifelong engagement in the church. Young people have ideas and passions, but they aren’t necessarily being utilized well in traditional church models. While a part of The Possibility Project, they can discern their vocation and where God is calling them.
Jared: Living in close quarters teaches you a lot about yourself, a lot about self awareness and conflict management. It’s really a refinement process. We want residents to discover how they can serve the kingdom with their specific talents and gifts. Living rent free for two years not only allows them to save money and pay debts, but also to be mentored and to have space to explore where their gifts and their faith intersect.
Q: Is there an off-boarding process to help residents transition when they leave The Possibility Project?
Jared: The last quarter of the program is designed to help transition the residents into the next season of their lives, careers, and ministries. The program is really different for each resident, but we do our best to offer resources to set each person up for success. Now that the program has existed for five full years, we are developing an alumni network as well. We are excited for that to become a resource for residents as their time living in residency ends so they can still be connected to the community.
Q: What sort of impact have you seen this ministry have on participants so far?
Jared: Every person gets out what they put into it. People start businesses or change careers or launch into grad programs. The Possibility Project gives them two years to figure out what they believe and ask whatever questions they have. Some people come and thrive and some people come and struggle, but the hope is that they appreciate this season.
Sophie: There have been people that might have walked away from the idea of church altogether if they hadn’t found this community. People have come in with depression or who have been hurt by churches before, and they have been able to not only discover their vocation, but find their place in a spiritual community.
Q: Can you give examples of some of the things you’re doing in the community?
Sophie: Our residents are encouraged to develop a project that serves the church and the community, and we support them in developing a creative ministry or project that helps use their gifts in a new and innovative way. One resident has been working on links between faith and work by developing a model of a faith-based co-work space for entrepreneurs who need a space to work but would also benefit from discipleship offered through a church community.
Jared: One resident founded Saving Acts, which is a group that provides connections for artists and creatives to serve in missions. We also have a couple residents who are building a media company that develops creative projects with redeeming and challenging messages. We also do things like travel around our community and lead worship and preach at local churches. It gives the senior pastors and staff a break and time to rest, but also helps them know that their church is well cared for.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of serving in those roles?
Sophie: For me, it’s been seeing someone in the community bring their whole self to our shared space and be vulnerable and honest and then someone else in the community really being able to receive that. It’s exciting to watch each resident bring their own elements, their own ideas or practices, into the group.
Jared: I’ve been edified by deep conversations in this group. We can have fun and then shift to having really in-depth dialogue about faith and the kingdom. It’s fun watching the growth in individuals when they are shown how they can contribute to the kingdom. We give responsibility to our residents, so they have the opportunity to fail and to grow from that failure and then to succeed. We try to create a safe environment, and it’s great to watch the residents really embrace that.
Q: What is the most challenging part of an immersive ministry like this? How do you deal with that?
Sophie: People are really imperfect and messy, and when you live in community, you deal with that messiness. Jared and I don’t live in the same house as the residents, but we’re all impacted by roommate drama, family drama, losses of jobs, etc. You sign up to deal with their messiness, and it can be really tense and hurtful. But you lean into the uncomfortable parts and commit to being present.
Jared: I think one of the most challenging things is dealing with busyness and self-centeredness in a group setting like this. We are all busy, and when someone chooses themselves over the community or gets busy and kind of fades out, we can lose what makes the community great and transformational.
Q: What are your hopes or goals for the future of this ministry?
Sophie: I hope we continue to receive people who want to explore vocation and want to be part of an innovative community. The people determine the growth and potential, and I hope we continue to see those amazing people wanting to be a part of this.
Jared: My hope is that we will be able to prayerfully consider what we need to be in each season. We don’t want to fall into a pattern based on what’s worked in the past. We need patience to follow God even when it doesn’t feel safe or cool or comfortable.
Q: What advice or insight do you have for someone going into full-time ministry?
Sophie: Find committed colleagues who support your work and support you as a person, not just as a pastor. Also, be clear about the vision you have for ministry, but also be open to the movement of the Spirit; find balance between faithfulness and innovation.
Jared: Establish an accountability team with people you trust who give you advice and call you out. The church needs people who are willing to be genuine, even when it comes to their doubts. And don’t get stuck in your routine or church calendar — the story isn’t staying with the flock; it’s leaving the 99.
Q: How do you feel your time at PLNU helped prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
Jared: PLNU radically shaped the way I view the world, read Scripture, and interact with people. I’m a product of the people I met there: my teachers, my friends, the classes I took, the whole experience.
Sophie: I can’t imagine being where I am now without the formational time at PLNU and the relationships that have lasted well beyond my time as a student. I never thought I would study theology or work in ministry, but my time there and the encouragement of my professors was huge in pointing me in that direction. I was so nurtured by the PLNU community; it helped me find my calling, and it’s made me want to help others find theirs.